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Burnaby RCMP joins pilot project to collect race-based data

Five municipalities will join in 2024 in preparation for a nationwide roll-out of the program

As of April 1, 2024, Burnaby RCMP has joined a pilot project to collect race-based data during calls for service. Three other municipalities joined earlier this year: Thompson, Manitoba, Whitehorse, Yukon, and Fort McMurray, Alberta, joined in early January. A municipality in Nova Scotia will join the pilot later this spring. The pilot comes after two years of consultations with various stakeholders across Canada. 

“We had gone across the country in 2022, engaging with communities, engaging with members and detachment leaders in six divisions and 11 detachments,” said Mai Phan, acting director of the RCMP Anti-Racism Unit in Ottawa.

Phan’s team assesses potential sites according to several factors, such as support among the local RCMP leadership and the willingness of members to engage in this project. 

“The Burnaby RCMP is pleased to be contributing to this pilot, as we believe it’s an important step in continuing to build trust and more inclusive communities for everyone,” said Burnaby RCMP officer in charge, Chief Superintendent Graham de la Gorgendiere.

Burnaby RCMP detachment. Photo: City of Burnaby

Phan said one of the most important factors was the diversity of community demographics. Burnaby stood out as one of the most diverse municipalities in BC. Phan’s team of eight researchers spoke with provincial and municipal leaders and stakeholders to discover more about local initiatives to address systemic racism.

“We also spoke with community organizations from diverse communities and Indigenous organizations to understand their issues and concerns and whether this was a project they would support, and if they saw it as valuable to address issues of trust and help improve the services the RCMP provides in their communities,” Phan said, adding that the diverse communities her team spoke with welcomed the RCMP’s decision to start collecting race-based data.  

The need for race-based data collection has been apparent for a long time in Canada, with diverse communities and Indigenous people calling for this type of data collection. 

“Communities have been calling for race-based data for decades. In Canada, there’s been a dearth of data. Without data, we don’t have a robust information set to really understand what is happening. We’re way behind other countries in that regard. So we need to catch up,” Phan told the Beacon. 

Another factor driving the RCMP to collect this data is the pandemic and how race-based data identified inequities in the Canadian healthcare system. “We saw how structural and systemic barriers impacted communities differently, even with something like a virus,” Phan said. 

Other drivers include the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, several of which are concerned with the overrepresentation of Indigenous adults and youth in the justice system.

Before joining the RCMP, Phan worked with the Toronto Police Service to collect race-based data and identify any racial disparities in the use of force by police members. The study had some surprising and other unsurprising results, highlighting the need for extensive data collection. The study results validated some of the Black community’s complaints that racialized people were overrepresented in use-of-force incidents involving the police. 

“Because we were able to collect data in a comprehensive and consistent way, we were able to then analyze it and look deeper. So, we looked at it by call type and by incident type. The surprising thing is that when it came to weapons calls and drug-related incidents, there was no overrepresentation in the use of force when it involved Black people. Where the overrepresentation occurred were in incidents where there was a mental health component,” Phan said. 

The report helped generate conversations regarding mental health, searching for alternatives to policing when responding to mental health-related calls. Phan hopes the RCMP pilot will glean similar actionable insights, identify areas that need improvement, and identify any “good news” stories.   

According to an RCMP press release, the pilot project aims to:  

  • “Identify differences in policing outcomes for Indigenous, Black, and other racialized communities;

  • Better understand the nature, extent, and impact of systemic racial disparities in community safety;

  • Enable data-driven decision-making and policy development;

  • Build trust with communities;

  • Improve community safety outcomes.”

The RCMP will collect the data for one year, after which Phan’s team will analyze the results, identify any areas for improvement, and eventually roll out race-based data collection nationwide.

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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